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Simplify (106 Ways to Uncomplicate Your Life)
Author: Paul Borthwick
Publisher: Authentic
Length:  196 pp (including appendices)
Choice is a good thing, right? Maybe not. Paul Borthwick, using statistics, such as the 19,000 ways to get a Starbucks coffee, joins the writers pointing out how paralysing an overload of choice can be. His aim in writing the book is to equip his readers for tackling this array of options.
Not only is this theme crucially important to most of us in the affluent West, pressed by time and choices, but this is a good book to turn to for a spiritual and practical response. He even starts his introduction by getting the potential buyer to question whether they really need to buy Simplify.
In line with the needs of his stressed out readership, this thoughtful, well-researched book is laid out concisely and logically. Even though it is about de-cluttering, it doesn't use a sledgehammer over our heads when reminding us that the many who “struggle to survive on one to two dollars per day” would love many of our options; instead, it encourages us to appreciate having choices.
After a foundational tip about discerning the difference between want and need, he goes into practical ones, like “buy slowly” or “eat before food shopping” to avoid the effects of impulse buying, as well as the “spend less than you make” approach. That may seem to be obvious common sense, but the current financial crisis fed by a credit crunch suggests that it is a lesson still to be earned.
Borthwick doesn't hold back on the difference that being Christian should make as he quotes C. S. Lewis , “There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them.” He also warns that we should expect to feel apart from others if we refuse to buy into the over-stretched lifestyle or the lie that image is everything.
The 106 hints are grouped helpfully into areas such as 'Staying fit' (because we are whole people, and because the same impulses that cause us to buy unnecessary things also tempt us to eat unnecessary food), 'Thinking counter-culturally' and 'Leisure time'.
Many of the suggestions are predictable: do free things, get out the board games, enjoy nature, look for bargains or use museums. He is also a little free with the idea that there are 106 separate “ways to uncomplicate your life” here. Some things could be edited together and nobody would see the join, while others are caveats – he notes that Christians do not have a monopoly on living more simply so that others may simply live. That's true, but it is not a way to unclutter your lifestyle.
Other ideas include planning time ahead for relationships and rest, tagging clothes to spot non-use and reducing your mortgage interest.
Just as it seems like those already converted to the cause are only getting reminders, rather than deeper material, Borthwick goes into strategic lifestyle: give purposefully; cut out church activities to spend more time with those outside the kingdom; and live where you will not be consistently tempted by the wealth around you.
If you have not really grappled with the idea that being a Christian should affect your values, spending, relationships and lifestyle, or looked at your life spiritually from a distance, then this is recommended as a place to start. It also has a few challenges for the simplicity veteran.
Derek Walker




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